Where are all the ancient architectural drawings?
January 15, 2014 9:47 PM   Subscribe

I do quite a bit of drawing and designing; when I read about ancient (b.c.e.) construction projects, I really, really want to see what ancient design drawings looked like. So far I've found next to bupkis, but still pretty fascinating stuff for what little it amounts to. Where can I find more of that, from any culture b.c.e.? I can't imagine that e.g. Hatshepsut's Temple or the Palace at Knossos were not drawn out beforehand, especially since simple groves like the one at that Met Museum link were.

I know we just don't have much that's well-preserved from that time, but I'd really like to know what we do have, and I'd like to admire it. Links to anything helpful would be appreciated. Thanks.
posted by circular to Society & Culture (11 answers total) 17 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: According to this source, the only surviving Roman plans exist as those made on either mosaic or marble.
posted by Ideefixe at 10:36 PM on January 15, 2014

Best answer: I can't imagine that e.g. Hatshepsut's Temple or the Palace at Knossos were not drawn out beforehand

I have a feeling that there were no ancient architectural construction drawings because we didn't have a grasp on scale until the 13thC, or a proper grasp on perspective until even later. Builders built with rudimentary plans and had the workers to correct issues in situ. I wish I could find the link now, but I heard that we didn't have 'architecture' until some of the great cathedrals in Britain and Europe were built.

Some of these buildings have drawings.
posted by Kerasia at 10:46 PM on January 15, 2014

Best answer: Ceramic architectural models from Han dynasty China seem to be plentiful, if that's a lead.

One thought I have is that unlike with purely written works, the ability of scribes to successfully copy drawings is going to vary a great deal. Hence, since many ancient works we have only copies of, if drawings are excluded from that category this would be a factor in fewer of them reaching modern hands.
posted by XMLicious at 10:52 PM on January 15, 2014 [2 favorites]

Best answer: There are surprisingly few surviving architectural drawings even for the medieval period: so few, in fact, that it's sometimes been doubted whether medieval masons actually worked from drawings. (Common sense suggests that they must have done, but it's not a foregone conclusion.) For a round-up of the evidence, and some thoughts on why so little survives, see Karl Kinsella's useful discussion on his blog: Medieval Architectural Drawing -- A Misnomer?
posted by verstegan at 2:19 AM on January 16, 2014

Best answer: According to this the Academy of Fine Arts in Vienna claims to own 85% of the Gothic architectural drawings in existence (425 of them). None appear to be accessible online.
posted by Segundus at 5:16 AM on January 16, 2014

Best answer: In Ken Follet's book Pillars of The Earth, one of the main characters uses a technique for drawing on large slabs of plaster with a fine metal needle. There's a discussion of the process here, and at least one person tried it out with plausible results. For his part, Follet himself weighed in via twitter to confirm that the process was real, but didn't provide any further details.
posted by jquinby at 5:45 AM on January 16, 2014

Oh, I missed your BCE note, sorry. He's obviously writing about a period quite a bit more recent than the things you're describing.
posted by jquinby at 5:46 AM on January 16, 2014

Best answer: The Severan Marble Plan of Rome is something along those lines, but it's footprints of buildings that were already built (and it has serious interpretation issues.) We do have mason's marks and the daily marks of bricklayers, but those are more on the materials themselves. There are many 3D models of buildings from ancient cultures, but not generally used as models for creating real buildings (as far as I know!) You might be interested in reading Vitruvius's work (which is not a "manual" but does give more insight) or Frontinus. Along with Sear's book, you might be interested in this one.

If you'd like reading on the medieval/Gothic side, I have some reading sources if you're interested.
posted by jetlagaddict at 6:01 AM on January 16, 2014

Best answer: In the "Incredible Gauls" show in Paris in 2012, it was explained that Gaulish temples and houses were built using plans "drawn" directly on the ground with posts and ropes.
posted by elgilito at 7:34 AM on January 16, 2014

Best answer: There's a bit more here discussing the emergence of building design drawings in the 13th c. (in relation to cathedrals).
(btw: very good question -- maybe send an email to the Met +/- university architectural historians for any links/tips?)
posted by peacay at 9:14 AM on January 16, 2014

Best answer: Adding to the great information in jetlagaddict's answer: for the Greek and Roman world, there is evidence that the plans of such buildings were sketched in part on the buildings themselves as they were constructed. Cf, "The Construction Plans for the Temple of Apollo at Didyma," by Lothar Haselberger; Scientific American, December 1985 for some of the most comprehensive and compelling evidence along these lines.
posted by AthenaPolias at 5:39 PM on January 16, 2014

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